Krishnadevaraya who ruler the kingdom of Vijayanagara in between 1509-1529 was one of the greatest statesmen which medieval South India had produced. Called variously as ‘Kannadaraya’, ‘Sri Karnata Mahisa’ and ‘Kannada Rajya Ramaramana’, his rule saw all round prosperity of South India, culturally and materialistically. He was the son of Tuluva Narasanayaka and after the death of his brother Vira Narasimha ascended the throne of Vijayanagara in 1509. C.Hayavadana Rao opines that Krishnadevaraya was possibly ruling simultaneously with Vira Narasimha long before his coronation in August 1509. At the time of Krishnadevaraya’s accession to the throne, the condition of the empire was unstable. Not only he had to deal with rebellious subordinates but also the aggression of the Gajapathis of Orissa and the Muslim kingdoms in the north. But he came out successfully against all his adversaries.
His war against the Bahamanis: Though the Bahamani kingdom had split up into five separate states, the sultans of these kingdoms used to organize annual jihad against Vijayanagar. Soon after his accession to the throne, Krishnadevaraya had to face the combined army of the Bahamani Sultan and the Adilshah of Bijapur. Krishnadevaraya defeated them at a place called Doni and pursued them up to Kovilakonda where they were again defeated. The sultan of Bijapur, Yusuf Adil Khan lost his life in the battle. For the first time the Muslim kingdoms realized that they could no longer plunder and ravage Vijayanagar at will. In 1512, Krishnadevaraya re-conquered Raichur, which was in the hands of Bijapur for nearly 20 years. Then he marched towards Gulbarga, the capital of the Bahamini kingdom and freed the Bahamani sultan Mahmud II from his minister, Kasim Barid, reinstated him back to the throne and took the title ‘Establisher of the Yavana (Muslim) kingdom’. But later taking advantage of Krishnadevaraya’s preoccupation with the Orissa campaign, Ismail Adil Khan, the successor of Yusuf recaptured Raichur. Ismail also refused to hand over Sidde Markar, a Muslim dealer in horses who had absconded with the money given by Krishnadevaraya. Hence Krishnadevaraya marched against the Adil Shah with an army consisting of one million men and defeated the Bijapur army at Kembavi and Surapur. Raichur was re-conquered in 1522. Then once again he marched to Gulbarga and liberated the sons of Mahmud II from Ali Barid, the son of Kasim Barid, made the eldest of them sultan and brought the others with him to Vijayanagar and treated them with much consideration.
His campaign against the Gajapathis: In 1512, Krishnadevaraya turned his attention to the east and conquered the fort of Udayagiri from the Gajapathi in 1513 after a long a siege of one and a half years. Prataparudra’s attempt to raise the siege of Udayagir resulted in his defeat and the fleeing Gajapathi army was pursued by the Vijayanagara army up to Kondavidu. Forts like Kandukur, Addanki, Vinukonda, Bellamakonda, Nagarjunakonda and Ketavaram was conquered and in June 1515 Kondavidu was captured. Next he captured Rajamahendri and proceeded as far as Simhachalam. He established a pillar of victory at Potnur. Finally he invested Cuttack, the capital of the Gajapathis.
The Strategy of ‘Bheda’: The subjugation of Gajapathi whose war elephants surpassed those of Vijayanagar’s in numbers and efficiency was brought about by the chief minister Saluva Thimma who advised Krishnadevaraya to employ the strategy of ‘bheda’ (causing difference between the Gajapathi and his generals). Accordingly Thimma ordered 16 jewel boxes and placed some valuable jewels in them and also a letter seeming to be from Krishnadevaraya written to Gajapathi’s generals. These boxes were dispatched in such a manner so that it could be seized by Gajapathi’s men. When these boxes were placed before the Gajapathi, he had them opened and the letters read aloud. The letters had these words- “The battle is to begin tomorrow. You should while pretending to fight, deliver ‘him’ into our hands. You may also rely on our rewarding you in a fitting and handsome manner”. After hearing the contents of the letter, Gajapathi suspected secret correspondence between his own generals and Krishnadevaraya and believing that he could not rely on the loyalty of his generals, left the city secretly in the night and took shelter in a forest. Gajapathi Prataparudra was forced to sue for peace in 1518 and gave his daughter, Tukkadevi or Jaganmohini in marriage to Krishnadevaraya. In turn Krishnadevaraya returned all the territory north of Krishna to Prataparudra. Taking advantage of the Krishnadevaraya’s preoccupation in his Orian war, the sultan of Golkonda marched against Kondavidu and besieged it. Krishnadevaraya immediately dispatched a huge army of 200000 men under Saluva Thimma, who defeated the Golkonda army and captured its commander Madarul Mulk and several officers.
Suppression of Internal revolts: The chieftain of Ummatur, Gangaraya had been in revolt since the last days of Vira Narasimha’s reign. In 1512, Krishnadevaraya marched against him and captured Sivanasamudra, the headquarters of Gangaraya. Gangaraya fled and was drowned in the river Kaveri. The conquered territory became a new province with Srirangapatana as capital. The same year Mangalore was also captured.
As a Warrior: Krishnadevaraya used to personally lead his army against adversaries in the battlefield and showed amazing resourceful ness in overcoming obstacles in his path. During the siege of the Udayagiri fort, he got boulders and rocks smashed to make passage wider and smoother for the movement of his troops. He showed extraordinary courage even in the face of gravest danger. For instance during the siege of the fort of Raichur, when the first line of defense was broken by the artillery fire from the enemy, Krishnadevaraya who was in charge of the second line stood firm and exhorted his men to fight without caring for their lives. Motivated by his call his men fought heroically and won the battle. Krishnadevaraya loved and cared his men and on the conclusion of a battle used to go to the battlefield looking for the wounded, making arrangement to pick them and treat.
His Personality: According to Domingo Paes, the Portuguese traveler who visited Vijayanagara in 1520, Krishnadevaraya was of medium height and of fair complexion and with a good figure, rather fat than thin and had the signs of smallpox on his face. Paes records that Krishnadevaraya used to do exercises daily in the morning by applying oil on his body and used to work out till all the oil came out in the form of sweat. This was followed by a long ride over his horse. Then he used to take his bath, offer worship to gods and began his official work. “He is the most feared king, but very cheerful and merciful”- he adds.
Scholar and Patron of Arts: Krishnadevaraya was a great patron of literature and was known as Abhinava Bhoja. Himself being a scholar, he wrote the Telugu work Amuktamalyada and a Sanskrit play, Jambavati Kalyana. He had eight great scholars called Ashtadiggajas in his court. They included Allasani Peddana often described as the Andhrakavitapitamaha. His famous work was Manucharitamu, Another famous poet was Nandi Thimmanna, the author of Parijathapaharanamu. Others eminent literary luminaries were Tenali Ramakrishna, Kumara Dhurjati and Rama Raja Bhushana. He asked the Kannada poet Thimmanna to complete the Kannada Mahabharatha started by Kumara Vyasa. Telugu poet Peddanna was personally honoured by him for his proficiency in Telugu and Sanskrit and Krishnadevaraya himself gave a helping hand to lift the palanquin in which the poets book ‘Manucharitamu’ was placd and taken in a procession. It is said whenever Krishnadevaraya met the poet while riding on his elephant, he gave him a lift. According to Nidatavolu Venkata Rao, the reign of Krishnadevaraya is a glorious chapter in the South Indian literary history. The imperial court had representatives of Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada and Tamil poets, who contributed largely to their respective literatures.
His Religious Beliefs: Krishnadevaraya patronized all religious sects and was a devotee of Lord Venkateshwara of Tirupati and even now we can see the images of Krishnadevaraya along with his two queens standing with folded hands in the Tirupati temple. The images have their names written in Kannada. Vallabhacharya and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the renowned saints of the bhakti movement visited his court. Krishnadevaraya honoured the former by performing Kanakabhisheka (showering gold coins on him). Madhwa saint Vyasathirtha was the Rajaguru of Krishnadevaraya and the latter held him in much reverence. When Krishnadevaraya was afflicted with ‘Kuhu Yoga’ (an inauspicious period), Vyasathirtha sat on Krishnadevaraya’s throne for three days to save him from the inauspicious period.
As an Administrator: Krishnadevaraya toured the remote corners of his empire and heard the grievances of the people and redressed them then and there. He set up an excellent administrative system. The empire was divided into Mandalas, Nadus and Seeme. For the purpose of assessment and fixation of revenue, Krishnadevaraya had the whole of his empire surveyed. The unit of land for assessment was known as Rayarekhe or the royal line and which measured roughly about seven feet and nine inches. Twenty of these units made a bigha and 36 bigha’s, a mar or plot of 16 to 18 acres. Land revenue was fixed based on the yield, normally 1/3rd of the produce. Krishnadevaraya provided irrigation facilities by building reservoirs and channels across the kingdom. He helped the Portuguese to conquer Goa from the Bijapur rulers in 1510 maintained friendly relations with them. This relationship also helped him obtain high bred Arabian horses and expansion of overseas trade of the empire.
A Great Builder: It was during Krishnadevaraya’s time that Hampi rose to be the paramount metropolis and unparalleled city for its splendor, vastness and richness. On his accession to the throne he erected towers to the Pampapathi and Hazararama temples and the huge statue of Ugranarasimha. Krishnadevaraya built two new suburbs in the capital and called it Nagalapura and Tirumala Deviyarapattana (Hospet or new town) in honour of his mother, Nagala Devi and queen Tirumalamba respectively. At the request of Krishnadevaraya, the Portuguese governor of Goa sent Joas Della Ponta, an engineer who supervised the building of a large water reservoir known as Rayarakere. Also a reservoir across river Tungabhadra called Vallabapuram and a channel called Basavanna were constructed. The Krishnaswamy and Vithalaswamy temples in the imperial capital were built by him. Krishnadevaraya repaired and restored many south Indian temples. Most of the big towers on temples in south India go by the name Raya gopuram in his honour. It is said that Krishnadevaraya built the Gaggan Mahal at the fort of Penukonda hill and made Penukonda his summer residence. The gopuram and pillared mandapas of the Kalahasthi Eshwara temple, the northern entrance gate of Chidambaram temple and the storied gopuram of Tirupathi temple were constructed by him. He also built the rows of mandapams on both sides of the car street at Srisailam temple.
Accounts by Foreign Travellers: Portuguese travelers Domingo Paes and Durate Barbosa visted his court and have left accounts of their experience there. According to the former Vijayanagar was very prosperous with abundance of foodstuffs, vegetables, fruits and animals being sold in profusion in the markets of the city at cheap rates. Barbosa speaks of the trade in jewels, diamonds, pearls and silk brocades, which were in plenty on its streets. “The city of Vijayanagar is constantly filled with an innumerable crowd of all nations and creeds”, he adds.
The End: It is said that Krishnadevaraya in his own lifetime had made his six year old son prince Tirumalaraya as the king and himself took up the post of minister. But Tirumalaraya fell ill and died possibly poisoned by the son of Saluva Thimma (chief minister). When Krishnadevaraya came to know of it, he sent for the chief minister, accused him in open court and cast him and his whole family into prison. Meanwhile Krishnadevaraya was preparing for an attack on Belgaum, then in the Adil Shah’s possession when he took seriously ill and died soon after in 1529. Before his death, he nominated his brother, Achyutaraya to be his successor. The rule of Krishnadevaraya was a glorious chapter in the history of Vijayanagara Empire.